0a9ges4229-z.jpgThe Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture, edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann and Sofia Borges.

Available on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Gestalten writes: Thanks to innovations in building materials, design technologies, and construction tools, a new generation of architects can finally realize structures that would have previously remained mere dreams. This emergence of a new vernacular of radically sculpted buildings, rooms, and installations melds rigorous usability with a playful and cutting edge aesthetic, facilitating highly functional yet undeniably exhilarating spaces.

The Sky's the Limit serves as a compelling exploration of these seemingly impossible, yet surprisingly practical structures and spaces. Unleashing the creative potential offered by the latest developments in design and construction, this book presents spectacularly formed buildings, façades, and interiors as well as inspiring temporary projects and urban interventions by both young and established talents. The projects featured here have all been built, are actively in use, and transport us to the outer limits of our spatial imagination.

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Clémence Eliard and Elise Morin, WasteLandscape, Paris. Image ©Martin Eliard

The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture shows architecture that defies inhibition and doctrines but its 'radical' element shouldn't be confused with the critical investigations of Archigram or Superstudio. Many of the buildings presented in the book have been commissioned by major cultural, political and religious institutions and by business organizations. They act as striking symbols of their power. Given the high number of ambitious buildings erected in Spain, one can also suspect that they were commissioned and financed long before the crisis that is bringing Europe to its knees.

One thing is sure though, every single building in the book is arresting, unique and worthy of more newspaper columns than The Shard and other candidates in the race for tallest skyscraper.

The chapters in the book divide radical architecture into:
- Organic Flow with buildings that twist and turn, bend and undulate.
- Sharp Structures is all about angles, edges and geometrical volumes.
- Smarter Surfaces, the ones we've been reading about for years are finally applied to the façades of sports halls, museums and office blocks. The technology is impressive, the result is not always pleasing to the eye.
- Internal Affairs because there's no reason why innovation should stop at the façade.
- and Point of View is all about architecture that learns from the nature it has invaded.

The Sky's the Limit is a collection of cutting-edge buildings. And it is a remarkably well-curated collection. But don't expect detailed descriptions of the technology used, of the challenges encountered or the impact the building had on the people who work inside it or live around it. This is a coffee table book, theory is scarce.

Another thing! This is probably not the place for such comment: but why is architecture literature suddenly so fond of the preposition 'atop'?

Still, i loved that book, its content is magnificent. Quick selection:

Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world's first commercial space terminal.

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Foster + Partners, Spaceport America, New Mexico. Photo © Nigel Young/Foster + Partners

Invisible from a distance, the Moses Bridge is a wooden passageway that parts a river in two.

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RO&AD Architecten, Moses Bridge, Bergen op Zoom, NL. Photo © RO & AD Architects

The terminal, control tower and storage spaces of the Aeroport Lleida-Alguaire are drawn in a continuous line, forming a single construction.

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b720 Fermin Vazquez Arquitectos, Lleida-Alguaire Airport, Spain

A playground structure turned into a joyous pavilion covered in funhouse mirrors and wood panels.

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MLRP, Mirror House, Copenhagen, Denmark. Image © Laura Stamer

Twelve buildings shaped like archetypal houses and stacked upon one another.

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Herzog & de Meuron, VitraHouse, Weil am Rhein. Photo by Iwan Baan © vitra

The 4-story building has plants in lieu of a façade, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows and curtains to make up for the absence of interior walls.

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Office of Ryue Nishizawa, Garden & House, Tokyo

On the coastal border between Turkey and Georgia:

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J. MAYER H. Architects, Sarpi Border Checkpoint, Sarpi, Georgia. Photo © Jesko Malkolm Johnsson-Zahn

A concerte building for the employees of the Paris transportation system. Shaped like a ship with round windows.

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Stéphane Maupin, RATP Formation Center, Paris

Twisting staircase:

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UNStudio, MUMUTH House for Music and Music Theater, Graz, Austria. Photo © Christian Richters

Ordos Museum is covered in metal tiles that can stand violent sandstorms.

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MAD, Ordos City Museum, Inner Mongolia, China

Little Hilltop with Wind View, a 8 meter-tall viewing tower commissioned by a Japanese wind power company, allows people to admire the landscape as well as the company's wind turbines. The light and flexible building is also responsive to the wind, swaying slightly on its platform when the wind blows. Like a tree in the breeze.

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Shingo Masuda, Katsuhisa Otsubo & Yuta Shimada, Little Hilltop with Wind View

Views inside the book:

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The Art of Not Making: The New Artist / Artisan Relationship, by Michael Petry.

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Can an artist claim that an object is a work of art if it has been made for him or her by someone else? If so, who is the 'author' of such a work? And just what is the difference between a work of art and a work of craft?

The Art of Not Making tackles these questions head on, exploring the concepts of authorship, artistic originality, skill, craftsmanship and the creative act, and highlighting the vital role that skills from craft and industrial production play in the creation of some of today's most innovative and sought-after works of art.

Michael Petry presents the art of over 115 contemporary artists - including Takashi Murakami, Matthew Barney, Tony Cragg, Cornelia Parker, Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei, Daniel Buren and Carsten Höller - all of whom have one thing in common: they do not always make their own work. Instead, they often either employ others to produce it on their behalf, or appropriate objects made by someone else. Original interviews with the artists and artisans offer insights into this creative collaboration, which often produces works breathtaking in their scope and ambition.

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Carsten Höller, Rhinoceros, 2005

Painters of the Renaissance did it, Damien Hirst does it and so does Takashi Murakami. Marcel Duchamp became one of the most influential artists in history for doing it. Each of these artists rely on external assistance to 'do their job.' Some have an idea for an artwork and entrust an assistant or the expert of another discipline or craft to actually make the whole piece. Others delegate only part of the process. We know that. Yet, in the mind of the public, the artist is still this individual of great mind, impeccable dexterity and expertise who's behind every single element of his work.

Interestingly, Michael Petry draws parallels with cinema. A film is the result of a collaborative effort between actors, technicians, assistants, writers, etc. Yet, we never question the fact that it is the film director who is credited as the maker of the film.

Petry believes that the rise in this partnership between the artist and the artisan is partly due to the return in favour of a highly crafted aesthetic in art, an aesthetic that contrasts with the mass-manufactured one. Another factor is that museums and galleries need to create 'spectacles' that will attract visitors, and that often entails works of spectacular proportions, a challenge that usually requires the involvement of more than one person/skill.

The author had the pragmatic idea of interviewing (or maybe he had an assistant do it for him?) artists as well as professional makers and artists who work for other artists. He asks them the reason for their collaboration, how they deal with production issues, authorship issues and what happens when one of the parties is not satisfied with the final object.

The book is quite light in theory (since The Art of Not Making is one of those coffee table trophies, theories was probably not the whole point anyway) but it still manages to provide a historical perspective, a few thought-provoking ideas, many questions and almost as many leads to help readers answer them for themselves. It also contains hundreds of illustrations and for each artwork, the author attempts to retrace the production and the technical skills necessary to complete the piece.

Quick selection:

A mushroom cloud weighting several tons and made of brass cooking utensils.

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Subodh Gupta, Line of Control, 2008

Wool tapestry based on an engraving showing rioters burning and looting an orphanage in New York, partly hidden by the hand-cut felt silhouette of the hanged woman.

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Kara Walker, A Warm Summer Evening in 1863, 2003

Rug produced by hand by women rugmakers in Arraiolos, Portugal, using a traditional needlepoint stitching technique invented there.

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Carlos Noronha Feio, The End (Birth and Fertility - The Good News), 2008

The artist collected dead fighting dogs and lapdogs and had them stuffed and preserved by professional taxidermists.

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Jochem Hendricks, Siblings, 2008

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Jochem Hendricks, Siblings, 2008

I'll never get tired of this one! Working with a taxidermist, the artist had the life-size cast made from a living animal. Body is made of polyvinyl, polyurethane foam and polyester resin. Eyes and horns are made of glass.

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Carsten Höller, Hippopotamus, 2007

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Animal Group, 2011. Installation view, "Experience," New Museum. Photo © Benoit Pailley

Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No 2) is a real wooden shed that the artist bought, dismantled, reassembled into a boat which he rowed down the Rhine, dismantled then reassembled again as a shed to be exhibited in a Basel museum.

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Simon Starling, Shedboard (Mobile Architecture N0 2), 2005

Houshiary and architect Pip Horne oversaw the fabrication of handmade clear-glass panels which were etched with patterns based on her paintings. The new window replaces the one that had been damaged by WWII bombings.

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Shirazeh Houshiary, Commission for St Martin-In-The-Fields, 2008

Branching bronchia of a human lung made from glass and partially wrapped in silk extracted from the golden orb weaver spider. The silk is being developed for use in bullet-proof vests.

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Christine Borland, Bullet Proof Breath, 2001

Doves made from Murano glass, then covered in ink.

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Jan Fabre, Shitting Doves of Peace and Flying Rats, 2008

Alternative and Activist New Media, by Leah Lievrouw.

Available on Amazon USAand UK.

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Publisher Politi writes: Alternative and Activist New Media provides a rich and accessible overview of the ways in which activists, artists, and citizen groups around the world use new media and information technologies to gain visibility and voice, present alternative or marginal views, share their own DIY information systems and content, and otherwise resist, talk back to, or confront dominant media culture. Today, a lively and contentious cycle of capture, cooptation, and subversion of information, content, and system design marks the relationship between the mainstream 'center' and the interactive, participatory 'edges' of media culture.

Five principal forms of alternative and activist new media projects are introduced, including the characteristics that make them different from more conventional media forms and content. The book traces the historical roots of these projects in alternative media, social movements, and activist art, including analyses of key case studies and links to relevant electronic resources. Alternative and Activist New Media will be a useful addition to any course on new media and society, and essential for readers interested in new media activism.


®TMark, The Barbie Liberation Organization, 1993

I might have covered many books and exhibitions that demonstrate how artists use technology to protest, campaign, challenge institutions, or express social and political concerns but i still had to review a book that studied alternative and activist new media from an 'Information Studies' or purely social point of view. This one was written by a professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and it has the (rare) merit of including contemporary art practices in its field of investigation.

Leah Lievrouw looks at what she calls the five basic genres of contemporary alternative and activist new media: Culture Jamming (think of the Billboard Liberation Front or ®TMark), Alternative Computing (hacking), Participatory Journalism (e.g. Indymedia, blogs), Mediated Mobilization (the Arab Spring) and Commons Knowledge (Wikipedia). She goes from defining elementary concepts (such as "what makes new media 'new'") to detailing recent theories and observations in a seamless and impeccable way.

She describes Alternative and Activist New Media, traces back their antecedents, weights their strengths and weaknesses in, pits them against their mainstream/institutionalized equivalent, analyzes their rise from fringe to (almost) mainstream, sums up the debates surrounding this 'new media ecology', and illustrates each 'genre' with a case study.

Alternative and Activist New Media is a book for students. Of media, new media, communication, sociology, media art. This is also a book for people like you and me. People who've been using wikipedia for years, who blog, who know about The Yes Men's "identity correction" performances. People who are familiar with the language and concepts of Alternative and Activist New Media. But does that mean that our insight doesn't need more structure and a solid historical background?

Elvis, my young Staffie, was a equally enthusiastic about the book (or maybe equally unimpressed by the design of its cover) ....

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Image on the homepage: The Yes Men's golden skeleton.

9colll88542_24642.jpgCollect Contemporary Photography by Jocelyn Phillips and Malcolm Cossons.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: The individual photograph exists as both image and physical object, and often the same image may be printed in different versions or media, which makes collecting decisions more complex.

From discovering photographers to determining editions and displaying prints, Collect Contemporary Photography accompanies collectors through the whole process of acquiring photographic works, while providing guidance on practical matters including information about different photographic techniques.

• Price guide to cover all collecting budgets
• Expert advice by leading specialists in the field with many years' experience in the auction market and a vast knowledge of the subject
• Compact, handy format with beautiful colour illustrations
• Vital background information about materials and techniques
• How to take care of precious pieces, storage and display
• In-depth profiles of forty established and emerging contemporary artists from across the world
• Biographies of the artists with details of exhibitions and awards
• International galleries, museums and art dealers
• Fairs, events and schools

Forty photographers to consider when collecting are profiled in detail, with information about their background and training, and sources of inspiration.

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View inside the book

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View inside the book (with works by Alex Prager)

Last year, a photo by Andreas Gursky, Rhein II (1999) sold for £2.7 million at Christie's, breaking the record for most expensive photograph. Such prices are still rather rare and the reason why collectors are starting to pay attention to photography (apart from the inherent quality of the medium) is that photos are still regarded as affordable. The price of a print from a young photographer is around 200 pounds.

I don't have the budget to collect photos, not even from emerging talents -not until i stop stop collecting Swedish Hasbeens- but that doesn't prevent me from being tempted once in a while.

Collect Contemporary Photography outlines in a few pages the basics of photography: its history, the techniques used by the photographers, the format, the ideal storage conditions, the importance that framing can have, etc. Although the book is not the ultimate weapon that will make you an expert in negotiating the price of a photo you covet, it does a good job at telling readers what to look for and at explaining why a photo can fetch a relatively higher price than another by the same artist.

The biggest section of the book traces the careers and illustrates the work of 40 photographers worth collecting. Some are fashion photographers, other documentary photographers, some are decidedly fine art photographers. The game for me was then to think about whom i'd want to collect. Martin Parr obviously and he's among the magical 40 but the other photographers whose work i'd want to buy were not represented in the book: Pieter Hugo (i'd become the biggest collector of Hugo's work if i could), Guy Tillim, George Osodi or Don McCullin. I was also very impressed by the Thomas Ruff's Nude series i saw at Gagosian a few weeks ago. Besides, i can't see how any self-respecting collector could do without a few pieces by a German photographer.

The fact that readers might not agree 100% with the choice of photographers selected in the book illustrates what is probably the most sensible piece of advice dispensed by the authors: take your time, visit as much photo exhibitions as you can and develop your own taste.

Here are some of the 40 photographers appearing in Collect Contemporary Photography:

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Head No. 13, 2000

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Nadav Kander, Yibin III, Sichuan, 2006

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Nadav Kander, Metal Palm, Nanjing, Jiangsu, 2007

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Ruud van Empel, Souvenir #1, 2008

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Jonas Bendiksen, Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, Russia. Altai territory, 2000

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Jonas Bendiksen, Transdniester, Moldova, 2004

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Jonas Bendiksen, Scenes from Kibera, Africa's largest slum, where almost one million people live on less than a square mile. Funeral of a young Kibera woman who died of stomach problems, 2005

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Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (Twilight, 1998-2002)

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Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (Beneath the Roses), 2004

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Izima Kaoru, Reika Hashimoto wears Milk

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Alec Soth, from the series Niagara

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Alec Soth, from the series Dog Days, Bogotá

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Mitra Tabrizian, from the series Another Country

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Miles Aldridge, Home work #3, 2008

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Martin Parr, British Food, 1995-1996

Living as Form - Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011, edited by Nato Thompson, with essays by Claire Bishop, Maria Lind, Teddy Cruz, Carol Becker, Brian Holmes and Shannon Jackson.

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher The MIT Press says: Over the past twenty years, an abundance of art forms have emerged that use aesthetics to affect social dynamics. These works are often produced by collectives or come out of a community context; they emphasize participation, dialogue, and action, and appear in situations ranging from theater to activism to urban planning to visual art to health care. Engaged with the texture of living, these art works often blur the line between art and life. This book offers the first global portrait of a complex and exciting mode of cultural production--one that has virtually redefined contemporary art practice.

Living as Form grew out of a major exhibition at Creative Time in New York City. Like the exhibition, the book is a landmark survey of more than 100 projects selected by a thirty-person curatorial advisory team; each project is documented by a selection of color images. The artists include the Danish collective Superflex, who empower communities to challenge corporate interest; Turner Prize nominee Jeremy Deller, creator of socially and politically charged performance works; Women on Waves, who provide abortion services and information to women in regions where the procedure is illegal; and Santiágo Cirugeda, an architect who builds temporary structures to solve housing problems.

Living as Form contains commissioned essays from noted critics and theorists who look at this phenomenon from a global perspective and broaden the range of what constitutes this form.

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Voina

I've reviewed a few books about socially-engaged art in the past: Art & Agenda - Political Art and Activism, a monography of Krzysztof Wodiczko's works, Goodbye to London - Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies, Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism, An Atlas of Radical Cartography, and Art & Activism in the Age of Globalization which is probably my favourite. Living as Form demonstrates that i still had a lot to discover on the subject.

The projects selected for Living as Form are often explicitly local, long term and community-based which sets them apart from many 'activist' projects that sound more like media coups than real, thoughtful attempts to improve a social issues. Many of the works documented in the book are probably not well-known (unless you've visited the exhibition that took place last year in New York) and i actually couldn't always find good photos to illustrate some of the interventions i found most compelling. Unsurprisingly, some of these socially-engaged projects come from the usual suspects: Europe and North America. Many however, were born in Africa, Latin America, Asia and were selected by international curators (I wonder if anyone was covering the Middle East?)

The projects might not be the most spectacular you've heard about. Maybe because the varnish of subversion has faded over the years, or maybe because the artists didn't necessarily go for the shock tactic, the loud nor the dramatic but their works serve a precise need, competently and with humility.

The book contains some 150 pages describing projects or outlining the career of artists involved in socially engaged practices such as Voina, The Bureau of Piracy (Piratbyrån) or Neue Slowenische Kunst.

Nato Thompson explains in his introductory essay that the reason why the starting point for book is the year 1991 is that he wanted to cover the period that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event opened the gates to a new neoliberal order which gave a huge boost to the private sector and debilitated the role of public and State functions in protecting and supporting citizens. Given the state of politics in Europe right now, the relevance and importance of the projects described in the book isn't likely to dwindle any time soon.

Just a few works from Living as Form:

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A few years ago, Minerva Cuevas set up web-based nonprofit corporation that distributes for free products and services. Mejor Vida Corp provides anyone who might need them with a recommendation letter, a Mexico City subway ticket, a self stamped envelope, a student ID card or cheaper barcode stickers for fruit and vegetables.

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Finishing School with Christy Thomas, The Patriot Library, 2003. Lucky Tackle, Oakland, CA. Photo Finishing School

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Finishing School with Christy Thomas, The Patriot Library, 2003. Lucky Tackle, Oakland, CA. Photo Finishing School

The Patriot Library, by Finishing School, is a nomadic library that provides users access to books, periodicals, and other media that may be considered "dangerous" by the US Federal government once the Patriot Act took affect after September 11, 2001. Believing that the pursuit of knowledge is not dangerous in itself, the Library makes publications that range from Aviation Training to Bomb Making, Chemistry to Tourist Information available to the public without questioning the motivation of the individual user.

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Image from the documentary film Up the Ridge

Thousand Kites is a USA-wide project uses performance, video, online strategies, radio and low-cost media tools to work toward prison reform through grassroots power.

The project emerged in 1998, when Nick Szuberla, host of a rural Appalachian region's hip-hop radio program, began to receive letters from inmates recently transferred into two local SuperMax prisons. The letters described racism and human rights violations, and Szuberla responded first by playing a game of chess with the prisoners over the air and through the mail. Thousand Kites soon became more ambitious and branched into a series of national and local campaigns, artistic projects, and dedicated radio programs.

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Ai Weiwei, Fairytale, 2007

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Ai Weiwei, Fairytale, 2007

In 2007, Ai Weiwei invited 1001 Chinese, from farmers to factory workers, from students to minority people, to travel to Kassel and visit the Documenta exhibition as audience. The people he selected were "those who are not able to travel overseas under normal conditions, or those to whom traveling overseas has a very important meaning." Once in Kassel they were hosted in a temporary hostel and visited the area. The guests were both tourists and subjects of art. 1,001 antique chairs were placed throughout the exhibition to represent the visitors.

Image on the homepage from the project Women on Waves.

Utopia & Contemporary Art, edited by Christian Gether, Stine Høholt and Marie Laurberg. (available on amazon UK and USA.)

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Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: Utopia has become a controversial concept, spanning the field between the belief in an ideal society and the dystopian nightmare. Within the last decade, the contemporary art scene has witnessed a return of utopia and utopian thinking. Whether detectable as an impulse, critically reassessed as a concept, or cautiously or daringly articulated in a specific vision--utopia continues to matter. This publication investigates the meanings of utopia in contemporary art. Theorists, critics, and curators discuss the different ways of thinking and performing utopia in contemporary art from a broad range of angles. The essays explore the current relevance of utopia as well as how people in different societies live, think, act, and imagine.

The two parts, Utopia Revisited and Utopian Positions, provide both a theoretical backdrop for the reformulations of utopia in contemporary art as well as examinations of specific utopian stances in connection with the three-year utopia project at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art and solo shows by Qiu Anxiong, Katharina Grosse, and Olafur Eliasson.

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Olafur Eliasson, Din blinde Passager (Your Blind Passenger), 2010. Photo: Studio Olafur Eliasson

Utopia & Contemporary Art is a collection of essays by curators, art critics, academics and art historians who explore the meaning and place that the concept of utopia has taken in art. The first part "Utopia Revisited" illustrates the resurgence of utopia in contemporary art. Although utopia as a governmental precept has fallen from grace after a series of misguided attempts to put it into practice in the 20th century, the art world is now welcoming the concept back into its critical discourse. Utopia as a mode of thinking can inspire us to take a break from reality and think beyond what is already existing. 'Utopian' artworks do not necessarily require from us to take their ideas literally. Their objective is rather to elicit a moment of reflexion and inner questioning "to which extent could the art proposal work?" "how does it compare to the world i live in?" etc.

Because the book is a collection of essays about the topic, there are some repetitions in the Utopia Revisited part, with most authors feeling they have to remind us of Thomas More. Each text, however, bring a different outlook and perspective on utopia in art.

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View inside the book

Richard Noble's contribution kept on bringing issues that are otherwise often ignored by enthusiastic artists, curators and critics: how most utopian art is made by artists from bourgeois background, paid for by rich collectors or state institutions and how it has virtually no impact on society nor the political world. How difficult it is to make a political work or art that is effective as an artwork or as a political act or both. Or how to distinguish between an utopian artwork from a political artwork. How the impact of a political artwork is influenced by the context (Noble gave the example of the reason behind Ai Weiwei's arrest for tax evasion: a project that involved displaying publicly the list of the names and ages of the victims of the Szechuan earthquake, an information that Chines authorities had suppressed.)

Another essay worth mentioning is the one by Jacob Wamberg in which he maps the utopian tendencies of modern art movements depending on whether they are located in 'virtual' space (the one of autonomous consciousness, think Kandinsky), the 'real' space (the one that directly engages with architecture and design, think Bauhaus) or in between (in the social sphere, think Situationism, Fluxus, Dada, etc.)

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View inside the book. Unrealized Art Projects

The second part of the book, Artists Projects, is pure joy. It opens with a selection of Unrealized Art Projects that Hans Ulrich-Obrist has been collecting since 1990. He has amassed thousands of texts, drawings, and correspondence that documents projects which, for some reason, never saw the light of the day.

Things get even better in the third and last part of the book, Utopian Positions. In The Claim for New Territories, Ildiko Dao and Simon Lamunière, look at communities founded by artists. From Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Nutopia to micro-nations, to a borderless city built on Second Life, up to the more viable The Land, a self-sustaining and transdisciplinary project created by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Kamin Letchaiprasert.

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Cao Fei , Whose Utopia, 2006

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Ilya Kabakov, The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, 1988

And perhaps because each culture has its own idea (or perhaps experience) of what constitutes an utopia, the final essays examine artists' utopian projects in different territories: Rachel Weiss considers the form and role of utopia in Cuban art, Inke Arns gives a tour the Utopian in Eastern Europe, and Hou Hanru explores the Chinese contemporary artists' reaction to the rise of the consumerist society in their country.

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In the background: Battery house by Francois Roche and Philippe Parreno, at The Land Foundation, Thailand, launched by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Kamin Letchaiprasert, 1998-

Views inside the book:

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